Quotes for entrepreneurs curated in August of 2021. Theme is entrepreneurial aikido: how to transmute critiques of your offering and business model from prospects and competitors into improvements.
Quotes For Entrepreneurs Curated in August 2021
I collect these quotes for entrepreneurs from a variety of sources and tweet them on @skmurphy about once a day where you can get them hot off the mojo wire. At the end of each month I curate them in a blog post that adds commentary and may contain a longer passage from the same source for context. Please enter your E-mail address if you would like to have new blog posts sent to you.
Theme this month is entrepreneurial aikido: how to transmute critiques of your offering and business model from prospects and competitors into improvements. Remember that (ultimately) successful entrepreneurs view failure as another critique.
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“When you’re making a decision, you need to reawaken the costs of inertia. Just going along as you are when everything is changing around you is also a costly decision.”
Dr Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) in an Interview with Aubrey Marcus (@AubreyMarcus)
Another word for “inertia” here would be “current context” or “current trajectory.” If you are in a deteriorating situation–or on a downward trajectory–you have to pick the “Best Bad Plan” or risk catastrophe as you search for an optimal approach. If you are in an early market that is still forming, then clarity is your goal. If you invest in growth before you have clarity, then you have to rely on luck. If you are in a rapidly expanding market, you need to focus on growth or lose share and become noncompetitive. Alternatively, you can find a less competitive market.
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“If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of trying to defend yourself you should say: ‘He obviously does not know me very well, since there are so many other faults he could have mentioned.’”
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“If you recognize that BS is ubiquitous, then the question is not “How can I avoid all of it?” but, “What is the optimal amount to put up with so I can still function in a messy and imperfect world?”
If your tolerance is zero–if you are allergic to differences in opinion, personal incentives, emotions, inefficiencies, miscommunication and such–your odds of succeeding in anything that requires other people rounds to zero. The other end of the spectrum–fully accepting every incidence of nonsense and hassle–is just as bad. The world will eat you alive.
A unique skill, an underrated skill, is identifying the optimal amount of hassle and nonsense you should put up with to get ahead while getting along.”
Morgan Housel in “The Optimum Amount of Hassle” (May 2021)
I think this is really about wisdom. Understanding that people are people, that all of us are flawed, and that even when we try to do our best we may fall short and we don’t always try to do our best. I feel this most often in bridging the gap between the decision cycles that a small startup operates within and a large enterprise operates within. Not only are their more levels and more teams who may want to weigh in, but politics is often a factor. I tell people that I prefer dealing with the psychological problems of entrepreneurs to the political problems of the enterprise, but the reality is that I have to navigate both. I still take things more personally than I should that are just part of the standard BS level in life, but I am considerably more patient than I was in my first few jobs.
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“All works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right do we have to depreciate the imagination? The creative activity of the imagination frees man from his bondage to the ‘nothing but’ and liberates in him the spirit of play. Man is completely human only when he is playing.”
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“People are much better at telling you what they don’t like than at what they want. When we are developing a new product we try to get something into their hands quickly and then listen to them criticize it. The criticisms are usually much more specific and useful to defining a product.”
Steve DiBartolomeo in “Founder Story: Steve DiBartolomeo of Artwork Conversion Software“
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“Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not wish to sign his work.”
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“There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy.”
I try to count my blessings, see other’s strengths and encourage them, open with humor and kindness. My natural setting is somewhat pessimistic but I try to see and act on possibilities and to look back and thank the folks who helped me to get this far.
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“Our lives are ceaselessly intertwined with narrative, with the stories that we tell, all of which are reworked in that story of our own lives that we narrate to ourselves in an episodic, sometimes semi-conscious, but virtually uninterrupted monologue. We live immersed in narrative, recounting and reassessing the meaning of our past actions, anticipating the outcome of our future projects, situating ourselves at the intersection of several stories not yet completed.”
Peter Brook in “Reading for the Plot”
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“Always bet on the people who bet on you when nobody else would.”
Good advice for entrepreneurs: remember your early adopters and other supporters who stood with you in the fire.
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“You can know what’s going on and still lose.
Bad players can play good moves by accident.”
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“I’ve been imitated so well that I’ve heard people copy my mistakes.”
Entrepreneurs do this when they seek to emulate famous entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs for example.
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“I want to be buried in the same suit I was married in. I want people to stand there and look at my cold face and say I was no great shakes but I was alright.”
Gregory Sullivan in “I Want”
I think this captures an afterlife perspective on what we were able to accomplish on Earth. It reminds me of the Stage Manager’s opening monologue from Act 3–set in the graveyard–of “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder
“Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take them out and look at them very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
Stage Manager in opening monologue of Act 3 (“Death and Eternity”) of Thornton Wilder‘s play Our Town
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“But while people are attuned to how successful a cradle for technology Silicon Valley is, they pay less attention to, and are I think less aware of, how densely populated a graveyard it is.”
Patrick Collison quoted in “Chapter 5: Organizational Structure and Hypergrowth” of Elad Gil’s “High Growth Handbook”
h/t Pat Migliaccio (@pat_migliaccio)
Elad: As you look across the Valley now, it seems like there have been some shifts that have created almost a culture of entitlement. People get enormous benefits, then start to complain about things that may not be that important, like the number of times they can get a free haircut on campus. How do you manage that? As people get bigger and bigger benefits, how do you make sure they don’t feel that they deserve everything?
Patrick: I think that this is simply a challenge that we collectively have in the U.S. and in the Bay Area in this era of history. Such wealth has been created by our predecessors that we’re short-term benefiting from that it’s easy for that to have spillover effects in the culture and to distract from focus or lead to a loss of determination.
And again, if you just study and read a little about the early days, and ideally talk to people who were around, you see that at the first semiconductor companies and the early software companies and, up to Seattle, early Amazon and Microsoft, there was nothing to be entitled about. People thought that software companies were inconsequential add-ons to the hardware. They were dismissed, they were subject to brutal release cycles, companies were going out of business left, right, and center, there was a lot of concern over competition from Asia. It was a tough market to grow up in. Of course the survivors have done well. But while people are attuned to how successful a cradle for technology Silicon Valley is, they pay less attention to, and are I think less aware of, how densely populated a graveyard it is.
And so while I think that selective pressure was good for the surviving companies, it really kind of screws with our intuitive sense for what’s required to actually build one of these.
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“The impossible often has a kind of integrity which the merely improbable lacks.”
Douglas Adams in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
True for fiction vs. history as well. History is much less coherent.
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“That humbling moment when your really clever idea fails miserably, and your initial idea that you thought was too simplistic actually works pretty well.”
John D. Cook (@JohnDCook)
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“A culture that sees all people as flawed is compassionate and forgiving—a safe place that encourages creativity and independence. A culture that sees people as either angels or demons is always full of fear, shame, and disgust—a terrifying place that encourages only conformity.”
When I find myself full of righteous indignation at some particularly stupid or thoughtless act I remind myself we are all flawed. I don’t deny the existence of evil, but stupidity is several orders of magnitude more prevalent. (Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice what can be explained adequately by stupidity.”)
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“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today.
No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be—and naturally this means that there must be an accurate perception of the world as it will be. This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking, whether he likes it or not, or even whether he knows it or not. Only so can the deadly problems of today be solved.
Isaac Asimov, foreword to Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1978)
I recast this as a foresight quote in my twitter version:
“Change, continuing and inevitable, is the dominant factor today. No sensible #decision can be made without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be–there must be an accurate perception of the world as it will be.”
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“The decision to become involved with a particular System should be made carefully, on the basis of a balanced judgment of one’s interests.
One need not drift (or sail, or barge) into Systems uncritically: Choose Your Systems With Care.
Remember: Destiny Is Largely A Set Of Unquestioned Assumptions.”
John Gall in “Systemantics: The Systems Bible (Third Edition)” (2012)
There are three editions, they are all good but the third is very good. There is also a twitter account “Systemantics Quotes” (@SysQuotes) that harvests a nugget or two a day from the third edition.
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“Opportunity may knock, but it seldom nags.”
An off-kilter intuition seems to nag some entrepreneurs to take a second look at what many others have overlooked–or perhaps more accurately characterized as unpromising or a waste of time. I blogged about how entrepreneurs should take a cue from Mamet’s observation that nomads, entering a new landscape, spot opportunities that the indigenous overlook in “David Mamet: Entrepreneurs are much like nomads.” The lesson here is, “if the incumbents say that will never work because we have never done it that way–without giving you a specific reason beyond tradition–then you may have spotted an opportunity. But be careful. Traditions are also solutions to forgotten problems that may still lie in wait.
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“I never trust anyone who is more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful.”
Randall Munroe in Time Management
Which reminds me of
“Literature is mostly about having sex, and not much about having babies; life is the other way round.”
Which I used in “Sustaining is more important than starting.”
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“We talk about organizations being good or bad at learning, but that’s not really the case. All organizations learn. One of the first things a team learns are the shared stories the organization has for being as screwed up as it is”
Daniel B Markham
I think most successful new hires learn how to work within the environment. What carpenters refer to as “working with the grain of wood not against it” or what J. W. King called “The Unwritten Rules.” What is learned much later, if at all, is how to change the environment it–much less improve it. Change agents are rare.
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“Don’t explain why it works; explain how you use it.”
Good advice for any software demo–or hardware demo for that matter.
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“Mediocrity convinced of its excellence.
Stupidity is incapable of detecting itself.”
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“Shelley had all the mannerisms of a studio executive. He used his hands when he spoke and waved his cigar around in the air. He smiled readily, and he even grabbed the General’s arm in a way that was commonly regarded as a friendly gesture in the world from which he had come. General Bohnen did not resent this behavior the way most senior officers would have. They were both civilians in uniform and he knew that, like himself, Shelley had been selected to do a job he’d already proved he was good at. He’d had dealings with many such men–tough, boisterous, confident, confident, calculating men. And he knew that, like salesmen and merchants, they depended upon their energy to overcome social resentment. But Bohnen did not greatly admire such self-confidence, for he’d spent most of his life among richer and more powerful men who demonstrated the greater confidence of not caring whether they were liked or not.”
Len Deighton in “Goodbye, Mickey Mouse” [Archive.org]
I was struck by three interesting observations in this paragraph:
- civilians in uniform…selected to do a job they’d already proven good at
- salesmen and merchants depend upon their energy to overcome social resentment.
- demonstrated the greater confidence of not caring whether they were liked or not.
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“You can’t expect insights, even the big ones, to make you suddenly understand everything. But I figure: Hey it’s a step in the right direction if they leave you confused in a deeper way.”
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“It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke — that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls.”G.K. Chesterton, “Oxford from Without” collected in “All Things Considered” (1908)
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“The time may have come to stop assuming that research actually happened and is honestly reported, and assume that the research is fraudulent until there is some evidence to support it having happened and been honestly reported.”
Richard Smith in “Time to assume that health research is fraudulent until proven otherwise?” (July 5, 2021)
Richard Smith was the editor of the British Medical Journal until 2004. He was a cofounder of the Committee on Medical Ethics (COPE), for many years the chair of the Cochrane Library Oversight Committee, and a member of the board of the UK Research Integrity Office.
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“One of the secrets to building a successful technology startup is to attract talented people to your mission who share your values but bring diverse skills and perspectives. Innovation is very hard and successful sustainable innovation is a rare outcome. There is a tendency for the “suits” to look down on the “propeller-heads” and the “pony tails” who of course reciprocate this lack of respect. The green eye shades and the grey hairs view the rain makers with some suspicion, who in turn mentally assign them and others to the “committee to stop sales.” No one cares much for the shysters until the fine print sprouts teeth.”
Sean Murphy in “The Illusion of Omnicompetence“
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“Bitterness is a palpable force, it focuses the mind on what it lacks.”
Bitterness comes in two flavors. The first is that the cold light of day the morning after that can give way to resignation and acceptance. The second is the “how did things come to this” feeling when your back hits the wall behind you. There is no more retreat, just a desperate struggle for survival.
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“The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted.”
If you want to inspire teamwork, raise the level of challenge. Higher challenges forces team members to recognize their interdependence in solving the problem, fostering collaboration and teamwork. Consider Ad Aspera Ad Astra (“Through difficulties to the stars.”)
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“Having weathered every business downturn for nearly fifty years, we’ve learned an important lesson–nobody ever regrets making fast and decisive adjustments to changing circumstances. In downturns, revenue and cash levels always fall faster than expenses. […] A distinctive feature of enduring companies is the way their leaders react to downturns. False optimism can easily lead you astray and prevent you from making contingency plans or taking bold action. Avoid this trap by being clinically realistic and acting decisively as circumstances change. Demonstrate the leadership your team needs during this stressful time.”
Sequoia Capital in “Coronavirus: The Black Swan of 2020” Mar-5-2020
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“The growth of knowledge depends entirely upon disagreement.”
Karl Popper in his Author’s Note, (1993) to “The Myth of the Framework”
“Today, the appeal to the authority of experts is sometimes excused by the immensity of our specialized knowledge. And it is sometimes defended by philosophical theories that speak of science and rationality in terms of specializations, experts, and authority. But in my view, the appeal to the authority of experts should be neither excused nor defended. It should, on the contrary, be recognized for what it is–an intellectual fashion–and it should be attacked by a frank acknowledgement of how little we know, and how much that little is due to people who have worked in many fields at the same time. And it should also be attacked by the recognition that the orthodoxy produced by intellectual fashions, specialization, and the appeal to authorities is the death of knowledge, and that the growth of knowledge depends entirely upon disagreement.”
Karl Popper in his Author’s Note (1993) to “The Myth of the Framework”
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“I get a feeling I can’t quite name
A ghost of a pain just before the rain
Got second sight flashing
But things aren’t clear
A little voice asking things I don’t want to hear
I can’t tell the future, but I can take a hint”
Webb Wilder in “Do You Know Something (I Don’t Know)”
h/t Glenn Reynolds (“InstaPundit“) in “The New School” who uses just the “I can’t tell the future, but I can take a hint” quote in his introduction.
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“Truth, thought it has many disadvantages, is at least changeless. You can always find it where you left it.”
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A final note on “entrepreneurial aikido.” I am not sure I capture the concept of “entrepreneurial aikido.” Part of it is certainly expressed in Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach aphorism about the value of friends:
“One thing we should always try to learn from our friends–their keen perception of our faults.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
Competitors are more motivated than your friends to find your faults. Instead of presenting them privately, they point them out to your prospects, customers, and partners in the most damaging way possible that is still accurate. Keeping your emotional reaction in check, and even better, staying calm and creative is a vital aspect of the aikido mindset. The second is the embrace and assist the attack, if only to learn more. Finally, your best response is in the marketplace, correcting whatever product flaws or deficiencies that were pointed out—or agreeing that they are there and your product is not designed for some customers with specific needs that you don’t accommodate.